In a 1964 internal memo, Warren Report co-author Howard P. Willens wrote, “In a discussion, the Commission could rely on some witnesses and reject the testimony of others, such as Victoria Adams.”
His comment was in reference to the Report’s chapter that dealt with Oswald’s escape from the sixth floor. What always intrigued me was the inclusion of her name and her name alone.
Was it because the Commission had conducted a thorough look-see into Vicki’s claims and found them to be without merit? But that couldn’t be because, despite its promise to do so in her specific case, the Commission had done no such thing. In fact, it had avoided just such an examination.
So what then was the basis for her rejection?
We might discover a clue from Willens’ 1978 testimony before the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) where he discussed his role on the Warren Commission. During that appearance he said, “We thought it was important to have a fair and comprehensive treatment of the evidence. We also thought it would be desirable to support the Commission’s conclusions in as useful and as persuasive a way as possible.”
(The reader should note that those conclusions regarding Oswald’s guilt were spelled out in January 1964, a month before the Commission would call its first witness to the stand.)
Willens’ explanation prompted a related HSCA question: “Do I understand you correctly to be saying that where information or evidence might have been subjected to sharp challenge in an adversary proceeding there was an inclination of the Commission staff not to rely on it but to rely instead on evidence that could not have been as sharply criticized or challenged?”
“That certainly was a general effort,” Willens admitted. “I don’t know how well it was achieved in the overall Report but I do know that it was of particular concern with respect to the evidence implicating Lee Harvey Oswald.”
Was that it? Were Vicki’s words considered a “sharp challenge”? Would she have presented a problem in an adversary proceeding where the facts were honestly being sought? Although her testimony was not officially rejected, as Willens first recommended, its substance certainly met that fate.
In 2013, Willens continued with the same mindset. He failed to mention Vicki or her important trip down the stairs in his commemorative 50th-anniversary book, “History Will Prove Us Right: Inside the Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of John F. Kennedy.” He would though cite the more “useful” and “persuasive” bits and pieces.
After reading his book for a third time, I obtained the author’s email address through his publisher. I wanted to see if he’d provide some clarification on several issues.
“If you have a serious question about who did it,” he responded, “further correspondence is probably a waste of your time and mine. If that is not the case, then by all means send me your questions.”
And so I did.
Why was Victoria Adams singled out in that 1964 memo? If when she came down the stairs was so vital, as David Belin and others on the Commission staff implied as early as February 1964, why wasn’t she included in the timed re-enactments of Oswald’s escape? In that same regard, why weren’t the three women who stood next to Vicki at the window questioned, particularly Sandra Styles who accompanied Vicki down the stairs? Why did the Commission elevate the times of when Vicki said she left her office and when she said she arrived on the first floor?
“I do not see any important issue involved here,” Willens generalized in reply. “There is no doubt that Oswald descended on the stairs. There is no doubt that [Vicki] did likewise. If they were on the stairs at the same time, she might have, or might not have, heard his steps. Her testimony was not rejected because she did not see or hear him.
“In fact,” Willens went on, “the Report relies on the testimony of other witnesses, as well as hers, to try and reconstruct the events in the Depository in the minutes after the assassination. The Report states that she saw Shelley and Lovelady ‘when she reached the first floor.’ This is consistent with the testimony of Shelley and Lovelady to the effect that they ‘entered the building by the rear door several minutes after Baker and Truly rushed through the front entrance.’ Upon entering they saw a young lady who they believed was Miss Adams. All three witnesses agree on seeing each other on the first floor.”
Let’s closely examine that last paragraph:
“The Report states that she saw Shelley and Lovelady ‘when she reached the first floor.'”
The Report does indeed cite a portion of Vicki’s testimony in which she is quoted as saying she saw those men on the first floor.
“This is consistent with the testimony of Shelley and Lovelady to the effect that they ‘entered the building by the rear door several minutes after Baker and Truly rushed through the front entrance.'”
Both men did in fact testify to remaining outside the Depository for several minutes before returning to the first floor.
“Upon entering they saw a young lady who they believed was Miss Adams.”
Here is where Willens is blatantly wrong. His use of the word “they,” in two instances no less, implies both Shelley and Lovelady saw a young lady who each man thought was Vicki Adams. That is not true, however. Both men did not say they saw a young lady, and both men did not say that young lady was believed to be Miss Adams.
This is what William Shelley said:
Q: When you came into the shipping room did you see anybody?
A: I saw Eddie Piper.
Q: Who else did you see?
A: That’s all we saw immediately.
Q: Did you ever see Vickie [sic] Adams?
A: I saw her that day but I don’t remember where I saw her…I thought it was on the fourth floor a while after that.
Cross off Shelley, who does not recall seeing Vicki on the first floor but rather on the floor where she actually worked, later that day. What about Billy Lovelady?
Q: Who did you see in the first floor?
A: I saw a girl but I wouldn’t swear to it it’s Vickie [sic].
A most curious statement for Lovelady to make since, in all of his testimony up to that point, “Vickie” or “Vicki” or any other derivation or reference to that name had not been mentioned. Continuing:
Q: Who is Vickie?
A: The girl that works for Scott Foresman.
Q: What is her full name?
A: I wouldn’t know.
Q: Vickie Adams?
A: I believe so.
Q: Would you say it was Vickie you saw?
A: I couldn’t swear.
Q: Where was the girl?
A: I don’t remember what place she was but I remember seeing a girl and she was talking to Bill or something….
But “Bill” said he saw only employee Eddie Piper and no one else. He didn’t mention speaking with anyone or being spoken to, let alone it being Vicki Adams. And did Lovelady’s comments really justify the Warren Report’s assertion that, “On entering, Lovelady saw a girl on the first floor who he believes was Victoria Adams”?
“All three witnesses agree on seeing each other on the first floor.”
Obviously, this is not true either. And like the Warren Report before him, Willens ignored Sandra Styles, a fourth member of this first floor meet-and-greet, and clearly an important one. Her corroborative value is significant, as is the fact she knew both Shelley and Lovelady yet is adamant in saying they were not on the first floor when the girls arrived there.
David Belin (left) with Willens on first floor of TSBD, March 1964
In my follow-up email I brought all this to Willens’ attention, and reiterated everything regular followers of this blog have read concerning Vicki. I mentioned Vicki’s strong denial to ever having said she saw Shelley and Lovelady on the first floor, and the evidence that is consistent with that denial. I also sent him a copy of the Martha Joe Stroud letter, explaining its sinister implications and reminding him that, for some reason, it had been suppressed from public view for 35 years.
“I don’t mean to be argumentative,” I wrote, “but bearing all this in mind, what are your thoughts?”
I suppose I pigeonholed myself into that “sharp challenge” category.
Months later, I’m still awaiting a reply.